We Are Both Right

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

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School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.

In Defense of School-bought Lunches

©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I have enough faith in our school district to let them feed my children every day for lunch. Do you? ©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I don’t know what my children are eating for lunch today. As I write this (the first day of school here where we live) my kids are at their respective institutes of learnings, getting ready to enjoy their midday meal. They both opted to buy, despite us not yet having a calendar spelling out what the food choice for the day will be.

They like buying their lunch most days and that’s OK with me. Is it because our school district more progressive than most when it comes to healthy school lunches, offering organic, all-natural fare? Not really, although they try — serving grilled chicken Caesar salad, roasted chicken (or turkey), omelettes and even orzo salad on some days.  But don’t get me wrong, they serve up their fair share of chicken and pizza nuggets and nachos too.

I let my kids buy lunch because they want to (and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t), the price is right and it saves me a step in the morning. I have rules — they have to buy the lunch being offered or the alternative (generally a sandwich of some kind or a bagel with yogurt and a string cheese) and they have to promise to take and eat all the components of the meal that is being served — the entree itself, plus milk (flavored is acceptable) and the snack, which is generally fruit (sometimes canned, yes, but fresh most of the time).

Do they actually eat all of those things? I have no idea. But they tell me they buy them (and I believe them) and I feel like if this variety of food is on their tray it’s hard for them to throw it out. The ladies who work in the cafeteria (and see how much food is wasted every day) may scoff at my logic, but there it is. And according to research, I’m not too far off in my thinking that school lunches aren’t all bad — if a child is wise about his purchase.

According to the USDA, schools must “provide lunches that are consistent with the applicable recommendations of the most recent of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans including: eat a variety of foods; choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; choose a diet moderate in sugars and salt; and choose a diet with 30% or less of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.  In addition, lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least 1/3 of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.”

Seems pretty reasonable and I think my district does a good job of following these guidelines while offering up things the students actually like to eat. Where kids get tripped up it seems, is when they buy lunch items a la carte — some pudding here, some ice cream there — and they don’t buy what the food service director has put together. (I don’t know how it is by you, but in our district, they do not monitor what the kids buy so it is conceivable that a child eats only dessert for lunch.)

Do I worry that my kids are eating things that aren’t as healthy as they should be when they buy their school lunch? I suppose a little, but honestly, I’m not necessarily always serving the highest-quality things either, frequently turning to boxes, cans and bags for our sustanence.  A poor excuse, I know, but it is what it is. My concern above all else is that they eat something. The school isn’t serving them bags of sugar or giving them some salt to lick, it’s a basic meal that covers most of the food groups.

All that and an education too? Works for me.

What about you? Do your kids buy lunch or bring? Which would you prefer they do?

Suzanne and her husband do such a great job of making lunch for their kids every day. Forget about my own offspring, I’m going to their house every day for my midday meal!